1500 to 2000 AD – The Modern Age
What we now know as the Modern Age (coined in the 16th century from Latin modo, meaning “just now”) began right around 1500 when the Renaissance that had started earlier in Italy began to spread throughout Europe and around the world. Gutenberg invented a movable type printing press that revolutionized communications; Christopher Columbus sailed west from Italy seeking better trade routes to the Orient and “discovered” America along the way; and a modest priest in Germany, Martin Luther, came to a spiritual awakening that shook Christendom to its roots. From this auspicious start, our modern world of discovery, exploration, invention, science, self-government, and skepticism has emerged. In the same era the population of our world has grown from 425 million to 6 billion in 2000 AD and has added another 1+ billion in the 20 short years between 2000 and now.
The Modern Era can be divided into what some have identified as three stages with varying dates depending on the cultural activity or field being studied: Early Modern from 1500 to 1800, Late Modern from 1800 to the late 20th Century, and Post-Modern to Contemporary from then on. During this time we have advanced dramatically in technology, suffered devastating world wars, acquired and disseminated knowledge exponentially, and are now faced with unparalleled opportunities and challenges.
Early Modern (1500-1800) – Discovery, Reformation, and Enlightenment
According to Wikipedia, “The term Early Modern was introduced in the English language in the 1930s to distinguish the time between what has been called the Middle Ages and the time of the late Enlightenment (1800) when the meaning of the term Modern Ages was developing its current usage. It is important to note that these terms stem from European history. When used in other parts of the world, such as in Asia, and in Muslim countries, the terms are applied in a very different way, but often in the context with their contact with European culture in the Age of Discovery.”
As noted above, the Modern Age was ushered in with the Age of Exploration, which lasted roughly between 1450 and 1600, a period of European exploration in Africa, Asia, and the Americas driven by a desire for inexpensive spices, gold, and other sources of wealth. Portugal led the way, followed by other major powers such as Spain, England, and the Netherlands, as sailors capitalized on improvements in cartography, ship construction, and navigational tools to facilitate their voyages. Colonialism and imperialism followed in their wake. The primary and dominant cultural influence during this time was the Renaissance with its version of humanism (“Man is the measure of all things”), which began in Italy in the 14th Century and had reached full bloom by the end of the 16th century.
Immediately following the resurgence of learning fostered in the Renaissance, which was based on classical sources being “rediscovered” and merged with the teachings of the Church, the 17th and 18th centuries ushered in what has come to be known as “Enlightenment” perspectives on humanity and culture. In contrast with the ethos of the Renaissance, however, many critical Enlightenment thinkers saw faith and religion as antithetical to reason. For them the Middle Ages, or “Age of Faith”, was therefore the opposite of the the new “Age of Reason.”
Late Modern (1800-1960) – Democracy, Dominion, and Disaster
The Late Modern period began with a maturing continuation of the Enlightenment which saw the development of renewed interest in personal liberty, freedom, and self-government. Old forms of feudalism and despotic monarchy were overthrown in revolutions in America and France with ideas of governance that spread around the world. America was swept by the second of two “Great Awakenings” of Christian faith, the First in 1740 and the Second in 1830. Science ushered in Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as dramatic advancements in medicine, transportation, communications, and commerce. Unfortunately, other cultural developments darkened the world with slavery, colonialism, racism, and technological “advances” in warfare that plunged the nations of the world into a sequence of conflicts that become more and more deadly, culminating in two World Wars and the subsequent “Cold War” arms race and War in Vietnam.
Postmodern (1960-2000) – Disillusionment and Dissipation
Some count the beginning of our postmodern world to the close of World War II in 1945, while others extend the boundary as far as the more recent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. From an American perspective, I tend to date the transition to the profound cultural changes that began to take place in the 1960s after an initial flush of post- WWII optimism in the late 1940s and ’50s. Our times since then have been characterized by the increasing globalization of commerce, dramatic advances in information dissemination, profound concerns about climate change, and the breakdown of traditional views about life, sexuality, and the limits of personal autonomy. Filled with a mixture of hope and discouragement, our world at the Y2K pivot point of the millennium has often appeared to be “on the brink.”
Contemporary Trends (2000-now) – the Bridge to Omega
The following have been listed as the “7 Spheres of Influence” or fields of activity in any civilized culture:
1. Arts and Literature
2. Community and Family
3. Faith and Religion
4. Science and Technology
5. Government and Politics
6. Knowledge and Education
7. Health and Wellness.
During the Modern Age up through Post-Modernism to now and on into the future, all 7 spheres have been and are continuing to be profoundly influenced. As a sample of the kind of changes society has been experiencing, consider this list (loosely synchronized numerically with the spheres of influence) of the characteristics of Contemporary Modernism drawn from an article on Modernism in Literature:
1. Championship of the individual and celebration of inner strength.
2. No connection with history or institutions. Human experience is that of alienation, loss, and despair.
3. There is no such thing as absolute truth. All things are relative.
4. Life is unordered.
5. Marked by a strong and intentional break with tradition, including a reaction against established religious, political, and social views.
6. Belief that the world is created in the act of perceiving it; that is, the world is what we say it is.
7. Concerned with the sub-conscious.
In the pages that come we will be looking at some of the social and historical events and developments which have led up to the changes that we are all currently experiencing, seeking Kingdom insights along the way.
Look below and you’ll notice Up and Down buttons in the middle. Using these buttons you can navigate directly through our timelines. For each timeline we will take a detailed tour using the outside buttons to investigate historical events and people noted on the current chart (the preferred route, especially for your early visits to our website). Our detour will now take us through the three stages of the Modern Era.